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UK trials DragonFire laser-based DE weapon successfully

The DragonFire projector (above) and a night shot of DragonFire shooting at an airborne target (top). Images: Crown Copyright, UK MoD

The UK Ministry of Defence (UKMoD) has successfully trialled a military laser which can engage targets with extreme accuracy while reducing reliance on high-cost direct and indirect-fire ammunition.

During a trial at the MOD’s Hebrides Range in Scotland, the DragonFire Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) system achieved the UK’s first high-power firing of a laser weapon against aerial targets. This milestone demonstrated the ability to engage aerial targets at relevant ranges and is a major step in bringing this technology into service. Both the Army and Royal Navy are considering using this technology as part of their future Air Defence capabilities.

The range of DragonFire is classified, but it is a line-of-sight weapon and can engage with any visible target. The accuracy required is equivalent to hitting a £1 coin from a kilometre away.

“This type of cutting-edge weaponry has the potential to revolutionise the battlespace by reducing the reliance on expensive ammunition, while also lowering the risk of collateral damage,” said UK Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapp. “Investments with industry partners in advanced technologies like DragonFire are crucial in a highly contested world, helping us maintain the battle-winning edge and keep the nation safe.

Laser-directed energy weapons can engage targets at the speed of light, and use an intense beam of light to cut through the target, leading to structural failure or more impactful results if the warhead is targeted. Firing it for 10 seconds is the cost equivalent of using a regular heater for just an hour, says the UK MoD. Therefore, it has the potential to be a long-term low-cost alternative to certain tasks missiles currently carry out. The cost of operating the laser is typically less than £10 ( $19.3) per shot.

The DragonFire program is led by the UK MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), working with its industry partners MBDA, Leonardo and QinetiQ.

The latest milestone builds on a series of highly successful trials, including the first static firing of a sovereign UK high-power laser, and demonstration of the DragonFire system’s ability to track moving air and sea targets with very high accuracy at range.

Building on this research, the MOD recently announced its intention to fund a multi-million-pound program to transition the technology from the research environment to the battlefield.

The DragonFire weapon system is the result of a £100 million joint investment by the UK MoD and industry. Together, the companies involved are supporting highly-skilled UK jobs in new cutting-edge technologies that are delivering a significant step-change in the UK’s capability in LDEW systems.

In 2017 the MOD’s Chief Scientific Advisor’s Research Programme awarded a £30 million contract to the DragonFire consortium to demonstrate the potential of LDEWs.

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